Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Library Visit

There are so MANY great topics to cover during the Spring. There just isn't enough time to get to everything.

This explains why I was in our school library today looking for non-fiction books about frogs.  Our librarian and I started out looking for environmental books, but I got sidetracked. I can definitely get sidetracked in a library. I decided I also needed to collect some good non-fiction frog books.

That took me to this great find:

Initially, the cover caught my eye. I couldn't resist that picture! When I noticed that Loreen Leedy (absolutely LOVE her books) was one of the authors and illustrator of the book, I knew I had to check it out. It's not about frogs, but animal sayings. But then again, it does have a few frog sayings in it, too. How clever! My class loves play with words. I can't wait to share the book with the class.

Just by chance, I then happened upon this book in a nearby section:

Again, the cover caught my eye. I thought, "WOW! It's another Loreen Leedy book." I'd never seen this one before. 

Do you see the frog on the cover? The frog is showing his friends (a lizard and a snail) all the graphs he is making. The lizard comments that he also likes making graphs. The snail suggests that the frog and the lizard have a graphing contest. The frog and the lizard will make the graphs, and the snail will be the judge.

 I love how Loreen Leedy is able to convey mathematical concepts in her books in a way that truly engages children. She uses humor and conversation that children understand. You absolutely have to see this book! The illustrations are amazing! This is another book I can't wait to share with my class. 

I know. Neither of these books are non-fiction books about the environment or frogs.

But I did say, I'm easily distracted in a library.

I guess you can tell I'm a big fan of Loreen Leedy books. You can visit her website here.

Wishing you many great finds when you get distracted in the library,

Monday, March 26, 2012

Earth Day Aquarium Garden

I had never seen or heard of an AQUARIUM GARDEN before Earth Day last year.

About this time last year, I started seeing the ground being tilled and mounds of dirt being formed in an area of our school. I wasn't quite sure what was going on, but thought new foliage was probably being planted.

A garden of succulents was created. 

And then THESE appeared!

So, this is an AQUARIUM GARDEN. Aren't they FUN? An artist made the fish from recycled material. They have so much personality! You can't help but smile when you pass by.

I can't wait for Earth Day this year to see what else appears.

Spring is in the air with these two new Spring math problem solving packets.

These are math story problems with a Spring theme. The problems are aligned to the first grade Common Core Math Standards. Four sets of numbers are included for each story problem. The worksheets are great for small and whole group instruction. Completed worksheets can be used for math strategy discussions. You can get them here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Let's Talk Math

My school district has adopted the Common Core Standards. We are in the process of  fully implementing the standards. The process includes lots of training. Some of the training is at a district level and some of the training is at our school site.

Our staff development meeting this past week was on the Mathematical Standards for Mathematical Practice. During this meeting we were given a math problem to solve. We discussed how we got our solutions and why we used specific strategies. We talked about our own mathematical practices as we went thru the process of solving the problem and sharing our solutions.

Proficient students should be able to justify their mathematical reasoning and solutions, communicate to others, and even argue their position. They need to reason abstractly and make sense of quantities and their relationships in solving mathematical problems.

As primary teachers we're always trying to find ways to bring conceptual understanding to the level of our students. How do we break it down so they can understand? What does mathematical reasoning look like at a kindergarten, first grade, or second grade level?

We were introduced to this book at our staff meeting:

Our district will be using it for some of the training for early elementary. The book instructs teachers in how to promote classroom conversations and discussions related to mental math problems. The teacher is the facilitator and uses questioning to help learners build understanding. Video clips are included for specific grades.

This book is a definite read for me. It includes sections specific to first grade and early primary. You can read more about it here.

I'd love to hear of any other math resource books you use related to Mathematical Standards for Mathematical Practice.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Products for the Teacher

One of the things I like about visiting different teaching blogs is finding out about different products that teachers are using. So, I'd like to share a couple with you.

As teachers, it's amazing all the different kinds of pens and markers we use. I have my favorites for chart writing and illustrating.

One of these favorites is the Sharpie Flip Chart® marker

First of all, it's easy to write with these markers. It's almost like painting with a pen. When the ink dries, it looks like it was painted. I also find that the writing stands out and is easy to see from across the classroom. I use these to post learning objectives and for illustrating classroom signs. You can find them here.

Teachers just cannot have enough bags.

This one is the size of a large lunch bag. It's made out of oil cloth and is especially durable.  It can be used to hold student name cards, materials for a center, books, etc. (I just can't resist those red polka dots.) 

These chalkboard placemats are great for word work. All it takes is a new twist to an activity, and children are excited to do it. They can write their spelling words, vocabulary words, or sight words on them. The pocket on the side holds the eraser.

I love these oil cloth products. They're made by Oil Cloth Alley. They also make totes, tablecloths, and many more products. They do custom orders, too!

I find that the students in my class gravitate to non-fiction books. I have quite a selection of fiction books, so the last few years I've made a real attempt to purchase more non-fiction books at different levels. This way all the children in my class can enjoy reading the books. They get so excited to share the information they've learned! 

I decided to create worksheets so children could not only write what they learned from reading the non-fiction books, but also share their learning.

I place baskets of books out about community helpers for students to choose. They read the books and then write three facts they have learned about the community helper they have chosen. The worksheets have an area for students to illustrate their writing. Students then read the facts to two different friends. Friends have a place to sign their names on the worksheets to acknowledge that the facts were read to them. Not only do children get to share their new knowledge, but others learn new facts as they listen. It's a great activity to go along with a social studies unit or as a writing activity at a center. You can get it here.

I don't know about you, but this week seems to be flying by. Enjoy the last few days of it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Organized by Color

As I look around my classroom, I see color-coded things everywhere.

I wonder . . .
What would teachers do without color-coding?

My classroom library book baskets are color-coded.

The white baskets are for books by a specific author. The green baskets are for non-fiction books about a specific topic.

The students' book bags are kept in color-coded containers.

The containers match the table colors. 

I even color-code name tags.

We use these when we go on field trips. The students wore these when we went to the Ocean Institute. It makes it easier to make sure that everyone is accounted for in a group.

The list could go on and on. I know most of you have similar color-coding systems. But this year, I added a not so common new one.

Now at first glance you probably will think it's "over-the-top" color-coding, but just hear me out. I originally got the idea from Geninne's Art Blog. She posted that she had organized her books into groups by the color of the cover/spine of the books. When I first saw it, I thought, "WOW!" 

So, of course, I had to try it with my quilting magazines. And that led to this:

These are some of my language arts resource books that are shelved in my classroom. They are grouped by color and I love the organization. Many of the books overlap topics, so it's hard to group them by topic. I now remember the colors of the books I use most often, so I'm able to find them quickly. I also do this with my math resource books. Books that I can group by topic are grouped that way. So, there's a purpose to this organization, and it's aesthetically pleasing. You might want to try it and see if it works for you.

I wanted to share a new blog I found. It's Donna Boucher's Math Coach's Corner. She's got some great information on math. Her most recent post is about kindergartners' understanding of halves. You'll have to check it out!

And speaking about color, I have a new color list writing product in my store.

It's a great activity for a literacy center or part of  Daily Five writing. Students write lists of things that are a specific color and things that are never that color. I use the worksheets as partner activities. The activities promote a lot of thinking and discussion. You can get them here.

Another product just posted:

This packet includes worksheets that students complete using clipboards. Students "cruise" the classroom and find words on the walls with specific sound spellings. The worksheets are correlated to the Houghton Mifflin Reading program (Nation's Choice edition). Use them throughout the year for review and practice at a literacy center. You can get them here.

I'd love to hear how you organize by color.

Enjoy your evening,

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I Heart Art

The first grade teachers at my school each take one of the following subjects to teach during an afternoon rotation at the end of the day: art, P.E., social studies, and science.

This year I am teaching art during our rotation. I love art. I not only visit other teaching blogs, but I also have a list of art blogs that I view (not to mention the quilting blogs).

We have quite a supportive P.T.O. They purchased this art program for our school:

You can find out more information about the program here.

"Tear Art Creature" was the name of our last art lesson. No scissors or pencils for this one! Tearing and a generous amount of glue was all that was needed.

How can you not love children's art? Their creativity AMAZES me. These creatures have so much character! 

I have a dear friend, Jane, who is an artist. She is generous with her art. She made this flag for me.

I pinned it on the wall next to my desk in my classroom, so I could enjoy it each day. And daily, I read the sayings on the cards. They nourish my soul. I just simply awe at the CREATIVITY!

Here's a closer look at the last card:

I remember Carol Ann Tomlinson speaking about multiple pathways to learning at the CAG conference. 

I hope we use ART as one of those pathways. 

Let's remember to nurture the artist in all our students!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kindergarten, First Grade, Second Grade Blogs

What: Linky Party
Who: Kindergarten, First Grade, Second Grade blogs
Host: Jeannie
Where: Kindergarten Lifestyle
Have fun, get linked, and discover some new blogs at Kindergarten Lifestyle.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Differentiation: Food For Thought

"So . . . What is differentiation?
Differentiation is
classroom practice
that looks
eyeball to eyeball
with the reality
that kids differ, and the most effective
teachers do whatever it takes to hook
the whole range of kids on learning."
-Tomlinson (2001)

This past weekend I attended the CAG (California Association for the Gifted) conference in Palm Springs, California.

Yes, it was:

high 70s,
beautiful blue skies,
Palm trees,
mountains on the horizon,
Palm Springs.

I wish I could have enjoyed the outdoors, but we (with colleagues who made it extra fun) attended workshops from 9:00 in the morning until 8:30 in the evening on Saturday. And then we were back on Sunday for more. At some point I lost count of how many workshops I had attended.

In my ongoing endeavor to:

improve my skills as a teacher,
be a good teacher,
be an effective teacher,
meet the needs of all students,
etc., etc.,

I combed the schedule for K-2 presenters and especially workshops on differentiation.

I'm working on differentiating instruction in my classroom but know it's a work in progress. I'm always asking other teachers what they do to differentiate, hoping to get more insight and ideas.

I was fortunate enough to start my day on Saturday at a session titled, "What Makes Effective Differentiation So Challenging?"  The presenter was Carol Ann Tomlinson. She is an educator, speaker, and author. I know her from these two books:

A quote from her presentation:

"It means teachers proactively plan varied approaches to what students need to learn, how they will learn it, and/or how they will show what they have learned in order to increase the likelihood that each student will learn as much as he or she can, as efficiently as possible."

She outlined specific key principles:

An environment that actively supports student success
High quality curriculum
Assessment to inform instruction
Responsive Instruction
Flexile Management

You can view the presentation on her website: Carol Ann Tomlinson.

Her presentation validated that it is in fact challenging to meet the needs of all students, but we can definitely do it. I will forge ahead in my ongoing desire to be more responsive to children's needs.

So, here's to doing whatever it takes to be that effective teacher and hook our kids on learning!

Monday, March 5, 2012

On to the Rainforest

"Animal Adventures" is our current reading series theme. Last week we read a selection from this theme titled Red-Eyed Tree Frog  by Joy Cowley.

This week we continue our study of the Amazon rainforest and the plants and animals that make the rainforest their home. Some of the books I include as read alouds are:

Tropical Rainforests
  by Symour Simon
Exploring the Rain Forest  by Mattias Klum and Hans Odoo
Revealed Rainforest  by Jen Green
24 Hours Rain Forest  by Fleur Star
The Rainforest Grew All Around  by Susan K. Mitchell (song/poem with facts about the rainforest)

Once I start talking about rainforest animals, a certain excitement looms in the air. Children love learning about animals in general, but rainforest animals especially fascinate them. Who wouldn't get excited about  jaguars, macaws, boas, toucans, katydids, tree frogs, orangutans, howler monkeys, and the capybara?

A multitude of rainforest animal books are available to peak children's interests. A few I use are:

Jaguars  by Jason Cooper
Sloths  by Melissa Stewart
Orangutans  by Susan Kueffner
Orangutans Up Close  by Carmen Bredeson (Zoom In on Animals series)

And once I describe the life of a sloth, and they find out that the sloth:

lives its entire life high up in the trees,
hardly moves,
grows algae in its fur,
and looks like it's smiling all the time,
(among other unimaginable things) . . .

Oh my goodness! That's all it takes. They want to learn everything there is to learn about a sloth. It's usually their favorite rainforest animal, with the boa coming in a close second.

I place a collection of multileveled non-fiction books at a center. These are books that the children can read to themselves. A few include:

Find It in a Rain Forest  by Dee Phillips
Meet the Howlers!  by April Pulley Sayre
Jaguars  by Helen Frost
Capybara  by Anita Ganeri
Really Big Cats  by Allan Fowler

I created a packet of worksheets for students to record the facts they learn about the different animals. Click on the picture below to find the packet in my shop. 

The children illustrate the facts they have learned and share their knowledge to two friends. Sharing their work is important to these budding authors. They love an audience for their writing.

So, on to the rainforest.

P.S. I had a student one year who would tell me that her mother would take her to the rainforest each day after school. How cute!